A gathering of the ordinary extraordinary


Tomorrow I am speaking at the Volunteer Conference hosted by the Institute for Human Services in Horseheads, NY.  Yes, that is really the name of the town :-).  Since the first time I heard “Horseheads” I have been trying to imagine how it came about and I must admit, I am a bit afraid to ask.  But that is another story.  I am so, very excited.  As of an hour ago almost 100 people from non-profit organizations all over the southern tier of NY State have registered to attend the conference and, it keeps going up.  Hmm…  120 anyone?).

If you are curious, as I was, check out a few of the mission statements from the various organizations being represented:   mission-statements   After you check it out, imagine a world where each of their missions is realized….  Wow.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than by being surrounded by people who make a living or volunteer a major part of their lives working to make the world a better place.

I have attached the conference brochure, too.  Pass it along if you know someone who might be interested. volunteer con brochure-final

I gotta pinch myself.

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From The Mystical to Cliché and Back

Aside


Cliché:  an expression or idea that has become trite. (Webster’s)

Trite: worn out by constant use, no longer having freshness, originality or novelty; stale. (Webster’s)

“Follow your bliss” is a phrase that is commonly used today.  When I googled the phrase I got 5,980,000 results in .20 seconds.   When I hear this phrase being used my reaction is one of slight annoyance.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.  You won’t hear me saying “follow your bliss” very often – maybe I have said it once or twice in my life.  I also don’t listen very well when others use the phrase.  In fact, to tell the truth, I actually dampen my listening, pull back or maybe you could even say that a kind of filter overtakes how I listen and I become less interested in what the other has to say.  I check out. Gone.

I find my reaction to this phrase as kind of interesting, especially when you consider that the first entry in Webster’s definition for bliss is: “Great joy or happiness.”   So, why would I not like or listen to a phrase that means to follow my great joy or happiness?  Could it be my cynical, dark side or is it something else?  

Reading on to the second entry in the dictionary it says: “spiritual joy; heavenly rapture”.  Well, for me, that one immediately pulls up organized religion and oops, look there is my cynicism yet again – wars, killing, right and wrong us versus them.  Yikes. And then reflecting further, I know that spiritual joy and heavenly rapture are not the same as organized religion, the first two are an experience the last is an organizational structure to which people belong. None-the-less, religion is the first thing that I think of when I read that second entry of Webster’s definition. 

Does my automatic thoughts of religion have any underlying meaning in my lack of love for the phrase “follow your bliss?” I have no idea but, it is interesting to consider it all.  Then I think of  Buddhism, Hinduism, and other spiritual ideas or practices.  I can sit with bliss here, a bit.  The peaceful nature of these philosophies are less problematic when I think of bliss and yet I wonder.  I wonder why it is that when I am in a room of blissful spiritually connected people (outside of the confines of religion) do I feel so uncomfortable?  They gaze into each others eyes, smile, express their love and appreciation for one another and I am uncomfortable.  I can barely watch bliss much less be in it in those situations.  Alas, I believe my cynical dark side is showing yet again… 

Back to Webster’s and the third definition of bliss:  “any cause of bliss [slang] to experience or produce ecstasy or intense pleasure or satisfaction from or as if from a hallucinogenic drug, or a mystical experience…”  So, drugs for bliss, or maybe a mystical experience, all right then, one is easy to come by and the other seems elusive or perhaps the result of being in the right place at the right time or the result of several hours of practicing say, a spiritual ritual.

The other night I watched the movie “Pina” which is a dedication to German dancer and Choreographer Pina Bausch.  By the time the movie was over I was present to the beauty of following what makes me happy and I was reminded of expressing what is at the inner depths of my being.  As I sat there observing the dancers expressing themselves in ways that made no sense or had no inherent reason they each revealed a deep, inner unique expression which tapped into something belonging to all of us.  It was beauty, it was truth and it was goodness.  I watched and I became present to something that I wouldn’t call spiritual joy or heavenly rapture but I would say that it was an essence of my humanity that longs for expression. Sitting there watching, I suddenly realized that there are places in my life where I was doing what seemed the right thing or what made the most sense instead of following what captured my love, my passion and my joy.  In the middle of that movie I realized that many of my biggest current issues were in fact, small distractions from focusing my attention on that which touches my heart.  In that movie I let go of something small and drifted out into a place of excitement and joy. 

Image

This, perhaps is what someone meant when they coined the phrase “follow your bliss”, I don’t know.  But who would have thought that watching a movie of beauty and profound human expression would reach in and rearrange my world. 

Wait… is it?  Could it be? I do believe that this just might be a mystical experience.  @ :-)~

Waiting for something to say…


The volleyball tournament was a complete success.  Looking from a coaches perspective all of the corrections I put in place were obviously noticeable   The girls were clear of what was expected of them and they all stepped up in a very amazing way… They handled the scorekeeping, down reffing (an assistant to the ref), and lines.  They were awesome!  Though I didn’t, I realized at one point that I could have even left the scorekeeping table and all would have worked.  They played giving their best.  They pressed up against the limits that each of them had.  We won two out of the eight games we played.  You should have seen us when we won.  We  Were  Thrilled…  In the next and our last two games we got stomped –  – bad. It was sobering and at the same time it was like the exclamation point of what was missing in our overall performance as a team. To play against teams of the caliber we are going against is what we came for.  Losing to them is the best place to learn what we need to be great. Yeah failure!

Now, about the title of this post.  It may not make any since to you but, I have been waiting for something to say since last Sunday when we finished the tournament.  I started probably 6 or 7 different versions of this post and just couldn’t say what there was to say. It seems that each time I started I wasn’t able to find the passion or enjoyment in what I was writing.  But when I thought about waiting for something to say as a possible title to the post I suddenly realized that there is something that is kind of bubbling in the background that I want to say yet, I don’t know what it is.  I know I may sound a bit crazy but really, it’s how it seems for me.  Has that ever happened to you? They happen in those times when you are ready to start something new but you don’t know exactly what it is.

What I really love about my title and that bubbling up thing is that by thinking about writing about waiting for something to say I could finally post an update on the Volleyball Tournament.

The writers mind…..  a great adventure.

When you screw things up…


I am sitting here with my daughter and one of her friends and volleyball team-mate in our motel room in Herkimer NY.  Herkimer is a little town near Utica in Central New York.  I guess it is most famous for the Herkimer diamond minds, a place where you can go and chip on rocks and come home with some pretty crystals.  Many of us who live in Central New York and have children have some of these famous “diamonds” somewhere in our house.  My son brought some home to me when he came here with a friend one Summer day.  He had a great time and that was when I learned of Herkimer NY.  I have no idea where those crystals are today.  I never thought back then that I would be here today nor that I would be coaching a girls volleyball team who is playing in their second tournament tomorrow.

Our first tournament was two weeks ago.  It was not only our first tournament but it was my first time as head coach and my first time participating in any tournament, ever.   My assistant coach wasn’t able to be there.  I really had no idea what I was in for.  Within a few minutes everything that was happening seemed as though it was coming at me at a hundred miles an hour.  Girls asking if they could go do their hair, referees asking me who the captain of the team was, scorekeepers asking for the line up and at the same time I needed to get the team on the court and warm them up for the game…. warm up?  What should I do.  Right then without looking up, in my mind’s eye I took in the rest of the coaches and their teams and they all seemed so cool and collected.  Doing warm ups, handing in their line ups, they all seemed to be handling everything with ease and familiarity and some of them were looking at me… That was when the panic began to hit.

Panic is a funny thing.  For me it seems to follow a thought.  There I was balancing, it all like a juggler at the circus, (except they skillfully make mistakes) and then wham, this thought runs across my mind that everyone else has it under control and I don’t and they are watching me! . . . . PANIC button!

Well, I made it through the day, I must say thanks to my generous husband who I recruited to help me after our second game. The number of mistakes I made is beyond being able to count but I also learned more about coaching in one day than I had learned in the several months prior.

I learned that I without the girls clearly knowing what I expect of them, they don’t have a place to measure themselves in how they are doing.  I also don’t have something to hold them to.

I learned that I am coaching the girls, not their parents.  I respect their parents yet they may or may not understand what it is that I am doing as a coach.  Having clear expectations of the parents and a clear statement of who I am and how I coach and what they can count on is important.

I learned how to substitute players, correctly 🙂

I learned all the particles that I have to manage in a day-long tournament.  Score keeping, line and down reffing, line up for each game, substitutions, breaks …and so much more.

When we met before this first tournament I talked to the girls about going beyond where they know that they can go.  I challenged them saying that them going beyond what they think is possible is what I wanted for them for that weekend.  I hadn’t thought that in challenging them that I was also challenging myself.  I had forgotten that when you set a bar for those that you are teaching or coaching or training that you also set a bar for yourself.  Set the bar I did.

Well, here I am heading into tournament #2 with these same girls and I am a different coach.  I have the line up for every game set, I have the working schedule set, I have the expectations written and ready to hand out and I have given parents the responsibility of making sure that their players eat and drink water on our breaks.  I have recruited Rich, my husband, to be my assistant coach and we have gone over all the play plans and other items so that we are on the same page.  We are ready!  I am ready.

Learn from your mistakes.  That is a sentence that I have repeated over and over to the girls at the last tournament and in our practices.  What really excites me about tomorrow’s games is that I have learned from mine and I can now guide them further into learning from theirs.

Game on.

Reverence for Life


The other afternoon I was driving to pick my daughter up from track practice after school.  We live in a small village in upstate New York and there is no traffic to speak of. This particular afternoon was stupendously beautiful and many young mothers were out walking their babies in strollers and accompanying their young children riding bikes along the main street I take to get to the school.

I slowed as I edged my way past the first Mom and stroller and then, with another car coming from the opposite direction, I had a split moment of trying to figure out the best way to maneuver around the upcoming children on their bikes.  As I slowed to a stop, and waited for the on-coming car to pass I was suddenly struck with how lucky I was to be in my car, stopping for these beautiful children on this amazingly wonderful day and I said to myself, “what if we lived and taught a reference for life.”

As I continued along the road to pick up my daughter I realized that having reverence for life is not just doing what was right so that those children would be safe or making sure that I obeyed the laws of the road or looked socially and/or politically correct.  Instead I was present to the preciousness of life all around me and including me.  Young mothers with their children out on a Spring day, walking in the fresh air teaching their kids to stay on the right side of the road as they wobbled down the street happily being alive and me driving my car happily on my way to collect my daughter.

I loved the early years of my children’s life.   On our walks I would pull my son’s radio flyer wagon down Via delle Mimose, the street we lived on in the Italian countryside.  At first both kids sat inside the wagon and later my son started to ride his “bicicletta di Superman!” and we walked down to the Coffee Bar to get an ice cream for them and an espresso or iced tea for me.  If we didn’t go to the Bar we would go the opposite direction to feed Solero, the horse.  I often wonder if we ever gave Solero a stomach ache for how many apples and carrots we brought him.  Still today, the kids talk about Solero.  Those days are gone.  Life is passing, my children are growing, they and I are fully emersed in their teen years and now I get to see others enjoy their young children and watch as a friend of mine goes through her first pregnancy.  All of this and at the same time observing and supporting my friend Betty as she deals with the reality of being in the nursing home doing daily rehab, fighting courageously to be able to dress and bathe herself as well as get in and out of bed alone so that she can go home.

I am, fifty.  Twenty years ago I was thirty and in twenty years I’ll be seventy.  When I am seventy my son will be thirty-six and my daughter thirty-four.  They will be around the same age I was when I gave birth to them.  Who knows, maybe they will be parents too at that point.  Where will I be?

My yoga teacher said something the other day which I really liked.  “We learn that we are not trying to get connected to nature but that instead, we are nature.”  We are born, we grow, learn and develop and continue doing so through our lives, just like the trees, flowers, animals and all that surrounds us.  Where were we before we came to this earth and where will we go when we leave here is a grand question.  I think it is an important question to consider and to thoughtfully answer for each person individually.  It is important because without an answer that fits for you, that inspires you, your life today is being lived in a context of something other than your answer.

For some the answer of where we came from and where we are going is an inherited answer that others came up with many, many years ago.  For others we are fighting against, or for an answer that resonates with what we truly believe and what makes sense for us.   I find that just asking myself the question and reading, studying and exploring the world and people somehow gives me an answer – today I would say that Reverence for Life is the best way to explain it for me.   So, if I say that it would mean that, we come from reverence and will return to reverence?  Hmm, maybe but what I find really  fulfilling is having reverence today, in this moment while I write this blog, and as I drive down the street and bring my car to a stop so the young children on their bikes can pass.  Maybe we come from reverence, are reverence and will return to reverence.  I think I’ll sit with that one for a while.

On my drive


I was coming home last night from visiting Betty.  Her rehab in the nursing home is progressing.  She feels better than a week ago, she is getting stronger.  She said it would be a miracle if she can go home by April.  And it will be.

The forty-five minute drive on Ridge Road from Horseheads to Trumansburg is one of my favorite drives.  The rolling fields, old homesteads and barns are breathtaking in every season.  Each time I drive that road I am filled with awe.  Last night it was dark.  I couldn’t see the scenery but the silence of the road, and being the only one on it for at least thirty minutes of my drive was a new, peaceful way to experience this drive I love.

I was listening to satellite radio, as I often do.  I roam the channels. Sometimes looking for relaxing SPA music, sometimes Classic Rock and Roll or varying types of Blues or Jazz.  When my kids are in the car, they take over the roaming duties, looking for current stuff.  I enjoy listening to what they like to listen to.  But last night, I had the channels all to myself.  I came onto a station that was playing songs I listened to as I became an adult.  Back then I thought I was an adult already — but that is another story.  Singing along I noticed how my voice isn’t as good as I used to think it was.  I conversed with myself in my thoughts: “If I took some lessons I could actually be pretty good.”  “Yeah, but not good enough to be a real singer.”  “Agreed.”  Then I continued on down the dark road comfortable yet at the same time pondering over the various conversations I had just had with Betty and her daughter, Nancy.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, family differences, bank accounts, her breathing, doctor’s appointments, Betty needing to advocate for herself when the staff give her meds she doesn’t need, the food being served not being adjusted to someone who is diabetic with high blood pressure, water retention from congestive heart failure and other complications – – last’ night’s meal was a chile dog on a white bun, potato chips, a piece of cherry pie and a small cup of canned fruit cocktail.  Salt, sugar, little to no fiber, how can this be part of a rehabilitating environment?  The issues to deal with when caring for someone elderly you love are great.

All of these thoughts were there, in the background and as always, after my visits with Betty I was poignantly present to the gift that life is and then, an old favorite came on the radio.  “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas.  I turned up the sound and sang along.

“I close my eyes

only for a moment and the moment’s gone.

All my dreams

pass before my eyes of curiosity.”

As I sang I thought about how the moments in my life have come and gone, continually.  I thought of  how sometimes I have thought situations were unbearable or that that they would never pass. I felt trapped.  And then, that too passed.  It all passed.  Everything in my life up to that moment (which has now passed) when I was thinking these thoughts.  And my dreams.  How many I have had and they have come and now passed.  Traveling and living in Europe. Learning Italian, working for the United Nations, becoming a mother – having two beautiful children. Returning to the US.  Loving and caring for my children all the way through the difficulties of my divorce and along the way finding a man that was part of a dream from long ago.  Marrying him, leading transformational programs for hundreds of people, building a beautiful home, returning to school, working with people, making a difference, bringing my voice to issues that really matter to me and to the world.  Being known in my community as a resource. Life is rich and my dreams have been many.  My dreams have been full.  Whatever I have been willing to dream and hold has past before my eyes, I experience it and then… I dream some more.

“Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.”

Like Betty, someday I will be facing the ending years of my life.  All that she dreamt, like me, has passed before her eyes.  She has had a rich life.  She has loved and been loved.  She has laughed, cried and now she is resting, working on getting stronger so that she can continue to dream.  And then she, like I, will die.

“Same old song

just a drop of water

in an endless sea.

All we do

crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.”

This was when my eyes teared up, my voice cracking as I continued to sing along. The beauty of life and the slipping nature of how it continues on.  How thinking that what matters is that conversation from a year ago or that thing I need to do next week or next year, when really what matters is this moment right now.  That this moment is a moment well spent.  That we are present, experiencing it, experiencing the love surrounding us, the beauty of the world and the people who are important to us.  That moment passes and then there is the next one.  It is never stopping. Ever.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind.”

Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamia, Native Americans, grandparents, parents, Betty, me, my children.  All of us.

“Now, don’t hang on.

Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.

It slips away.

And all your money, won’t another minute buy.”

I had never heard the lyrics this way.  Don’t hang on.  My first thought was Betty.  Don’t hang on.  This moment, right now is passing by.  Another will be here to follow.  Enjoy each moment with her as they pass.  My children, right now are growing, learning becoming more and more independent.  “Don’t hang on.  Nothin’ last forever…”  All of it is changing, moving, slipping by into that next beautiful moment under the sky, on our precious earth.  Money will never change that.

“Dust in the wind.

All we are is dust in the wind.”

It seems to me that being able to come to a place of acceptance of our inevitable death is one of the most empowering things we can do. How to do that is an interesting question.  I am grateful for Betty for many things. One, being that as I walk with her through this phase of her life, she is giving me the gift of cherishing life.  Of cherishing all that I have, all I have done, all that I will do and that in the end, I too will be dust in the wind.  There is something liberating about accepting that.  I am overcome by a sense of  peacefulness, a vulnerability and a deep sense of compassion for humanity.

A Blog About Life and The Ingenuity of the Human Spirit


This blog is about life. It is about celebrating our humanity.  Looking at where we are today, how we got here and what it takes to alter the direction of tomorrow.  Creating new avenues that were not available or visible before.  This blog is an inquiry about what it takes to bring about new cultures.  It is about riding the waves of our current culture and way life without losing sight of what matters most and what is possible and then taking actions that bring what is possible into reality.  This blog is about human spirit and ingenuity.

Transitions are integral to our life.  From the moment we are born until the moment we die life is a series of transitions from one moment to the next.  From infant to child, to adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and old age, we transition with the years as they pass, our bodies as they age and the circumstance around us.  These daily transitions, happening moment by moment, are the stuff from which new pathways can be created. There in each moment, in every transition of our life we can do the same thing we have always done, repeat our habits which may very well be a part of our cultural history, or we can do something else.  We have the choice to forge new pathways, create new ways of dealing with situations or circumstances, we can create new cultures.  Our access are the transitions of our life.

Our greatest teachers are our children.  I am reminded of the words to the song “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”  The adults of the world, through our words, actions and habits, teach the youth who observe them.  Parents, politicians, teachers, neighbors, writers, business owners, all of us play part in the culture that our children are inheriting.  As they move through life, the guidance we provide our youth can be to follow the flow of our culture and the way it has “always” been or we can teach them to observe, think about and chose new actions for themselves which forges new pathways for their life.  They can be part of creating a new culture.  We can teach them to think, act and speak so that they can lead the way and go beyond anything that we can imagine.